BJP’s assurance to promote Champu Khangpok as ‘Heritage Floating Village’ comes as a sharp contrast to the allegation of the Loktak Development Authority (LDA) that Champu Khangpok floating village is a non-entity and that it was completely ‘removed’ by the authority during 2011.
By Salam Rajesh
The ruling political party in the State – the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has committed to promote the one and only natural floating village in the sub-continent, and possibly in the entire world, the Champu Khangpok floating village as Heritage Floating Village in its election manifesto (Manipur Manifesto 2022) released on Thursday.
The BJP, which understandably is the dominant party in the outgoing BJP-led coalition Government in Manipur, commits to a heap of promises for the electorates if and when it is voted back to power. Manipur will go to the polls on 28 February in its first phase and on 5 March in its second phase.
The BJP manifesto tends to look into the future when the State would progress by leaps and bounds with boost in infrastructure and facilities for industrial and entrepreneurial ventures. Focus is there on employment generation and social security through skill enhancement and promotional support for farmers and fishers, with addressing promotion of the gender based work force.
Among the several agenda dealt with in the manifesto, focus on the largest inland freshwater lake in the far eastern parts of the country – the Loktak Lake – is very much there similarly as the other major political parties in the State, the National People’s Party (NPP) and the Indian National Congress (INC) had committed to in their election manifestos prior to the BJP’s release.
Under a broad headline – Environment Conservation and Preservation (pp.28-29) – the BJP’s Manipur Manifesto 2022 talks of two sub-themes, namely, environment conservation and wetland conservation, which although lacks focus on specific issues.
The sub-theme ‘Wetland Conservation’ has five bullet points out of which four talks specifically of Loktak Lake, missing out on the BJP’s focus on addressing issues of the other wetlands and rivers in the State.
The NPP and the INC had specifically committed in their 2022’s election manifestos that the fairly controversial The Manipur Loktak Lake (Protection) Act, 2006 would be reviewed. The Act has since been in the eye of the storm from its first field application during November 2011, wherein hundreds of fishers’ shelter huts – Phumshangs – at Champu Khangpok floating village were razed to the ground by Loktak Development Authority (LDA)’s work force on the grounds that these were unauthorized structures. The BJP, however, has not addressed this issue.
Quite interestingly and as similarly committed to by NPP and INC, the BJP commits to restructuring the overall functioning of LDA “for the comprehensive conservation and management of Loktak Lake and its associated wetlands”. This could have reference to the general allegation that in these past few decades the functioning of LDA has neither been scientifically adhered to nor efficiently managed as per the guidelines of Ramsar Convention and the national Wetlands Rules 2017.
The significant development of particular interest is the BJP’s assurance to promote Champu Khangpok floating village as ‘Heritage Floating Village’ to “conserve and promote the local heritage”. This comes as a sharp contrast to the allegation of the LDA that Champu Khangpok floating village is a non-entity and that it was completely ‘removed’ by the Authority during 2011.
It may be recalled that the Election Commission of India had approved Champu Khangpok village at Loktak Lake as a polling station on 11 November in 2020. Challenging this in a complaint lodged with the State’s Chief Election Commissioner on 5 December 2020 stating the allotment of polling station at Champu Khangpok floating village is illegal on the basis that the village is a non-entity, the LDA stated in its affidavit that it had “evicted all illegal occupancy in 2011 wherein no household were detected so called Champu Khangpok area”.
It is against this background on the stand of the LDA that Champu Khangpok floating village is a ‘non-entity’, that the State BJP’s pledge to “promote Champu Khangpok floating village as Heritage Floating Village” assumes significance specifically for the marginalized fishing community who live and thrive in this floating village within Loktak Lake.
As per the electoral roll published for Bishnupur District, Manipur, by the State Election Commission in 2021, Champu Khangpok floating village comes under Thanga Part-I of Thanga Assembly Constituency, under Moirang Subdivision. The village has an electorate population of 312 individuals, accounting for 178 males and 134 females.
The BJP manifesto commits to revitalize the integrity of Loktak Lake, a Ramsar site of international importance. It states that, “We will continue to preserve, develop and maintain the State’s iconic gem, the Loktak Lake, taking into consideration all the key ecological parameters. We will also develop the Loktak Lake holistically to ensure it becomes an iconic wetland site of South East Asia”. The reference to ‘South East Asia’ is, of course, not understood.
The BJP manifesto, however, contains two matters that since has been challenged by environmentalists and the Loktak fishing community as detrimental to the overall ecology of the lake and the traditional fishery in the absence of scientific temper and prior consultations with various stakeholders, in particular the fishing community.
This is with reference to the proposals of ‘formulating an Integrated Wise Use Policy for the development of Loktak and its associated wetlands’ (p.29) and the ‘Loktak Mega Tourism Project’ (p.27). The objections arise from non-compliance to the guidelines of the Ramsar Convention and the national Wetlands Rules 2017.
At the end of day, for the fishing community at Champu Khangpok floating village, years of uncertainty and suffering rights violation under State would hopefully end with the State BJP’s promise to protecting people’s rights, wherein it states that, “We will continue to protect the Indigenous people of Manipur and preserve the rights and the rich cultural heritage of the State” (p.6).
Featuring Champu Khangpok as a natural heritage of the State is a right direction for the Government, in so much as the floating biomass, the floating shelter huts, the women with the Chinese dip nets tugged between their legs upon their dugout canoe, are iconic scenes that best describe Loktak’s natural heritage and repeatedly featured in State’s tourism map.
(The writer is a media professional working on environmental issues. He can be reached at [email protected])